Boldly Going: “Far Beyond the Stars”

Star Trek Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series to be arc based. As the show progressed, new hostile species were introduced in the Gamma Quadrant and the threat of war loomed. By the end of the fifth season, the Dominion War had begun, with DS9 on the front lines. The war takes a toll on Starfleet, and Sisko especially. At the beginning of “Far Beyond the Stars” he’s considering resigning from Starfleet after losing a very dear friend in the war. His father, Joseph has traveled all the way from Earth to visit, but Captain Sisko is too busy to entertain him.

Sisko begins having visions of 1950s characters. While disconcerting, it’s not the first time he’s had them. A year ago, when Bajor was considering joining the Federation, the Prophets gave Sisko visions to warn the Bajorans. These visions aren’t as obvious as his previous ones, but Dr. Bashir confirms that Sisko’s brain patterns are similar. Before they can decide on a treatment plan, Sisko finds himself fully immersed in 1950s New York.

Benny Russell is a science fiction writer working for a magazine. We know his fellow writers as Sisko’s crewmates. Odo is the editor, while Quark, Chief O’Brien, Dr. Bashir and Major Kira are writers. General Martok is the resident artist, whose drawings are used for inspiration. During a meeting, he shows a sketch of Deep Space Nine that piques Benny’s interest. After work Benny has a run in with two cops, who are Weyoun and Dukat without their makeup. They don’t believe that Benny is a writer but let him go with a warning. Also on his way home, Benny sees a street preacher, who is Sisko’s father. He encourages Benny by name to write those words.

Benny Russell imagines Captain Sisko

The next morning Benny drops by the neighborhood coffee shop for breakfast as usual. Kasidy, Sisko’s girlfriend, is the waitress and is Benny’s girlfriend as well. She wants to marry him and settle down. But Benny is more interested in his writing. Willie, the baseball player that Sisko saw at the beginning of the episode and played by Worf without his makeup, arrives and boasts about his baseball game. Soon after Jimmy, played by Sisko’s son Jake, comes in and tries to fence a watch. Benny’s not interested and warns Jimmy that he’ll get into serious trouble if he keeps this up.

At the office, everyone loves Benny’s story. Despite his Deep Space Nine story being good, the editor refuses to publish it as long as the captain is black. He gives Benny another picture and tells him to write a novella. At the coffee shop, Benny is disappointed while Jimmy echoes the editor’s point that readers wouldn’t care for a colored Captain. Nothing will ever change.

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The Preacher, played by Sisko’s father Joseph

Instead of working on a new novella, Benny is inspired to write more stories about Deep Space Nine and Ben Sisko after running into the preacher again. Once again the editor refuses to publish any of them. But the office floats the idea of having his first story be a dream. Benny agrees, despite the dream possibly gutting the story, and the magazine buys it at three cents a word. To celebrate he takes his girlfriend out dancing.

Their evening is interrupted by gunshots. Jimmy is in the street, felled by the two cops who stopped Benny earlier. They assumed Jimmy was up to no good and took his crowbar as a weapon. Benny is stopped when he tries to help and his cries of protest are silenced by a savage beating. He finally returns to work the day the magazine is released only to discover the publisher had the whole issue pulped. To make things worse, the editor tells Benny he’s fired.

Benny is understandably devastated. He really believed in his Deep Space Nine stories. So much so that he occasionally saw his characters in the flesh. He breaks down in the office as he shouts that his idea is real and the magazine can’t destroy it. The only thing his coworkers can do is call an ambulance. As they drive away, Benny lays on a stretcher and sees a star field in the window. The Preacher sits beside him, calling Benny both the dreamer and the dream.

Sisko sees Benny Russell’s reflection

Back on the station, Sisko wakes up in the infirmary. He was only out for a few minutes but if felt much longer to him. Dr. Bashir can’t explain what happened or why Sisko’s brain patterns returned to normal on their own. The Captain is resolved to stay on Deep Space Nine and fight the good fight.

Behind the scenes, it’s worth noting this episode was directed by Avery Brooks. It is not unusual for cast members to occasionally direct as the production teams behind the later Star Trek shows allowed interested cast members to learn by shadowing. Thirteen actors from TNG, DS9 and Star Trek Voyager directed nearly 100 episodes of the shows. Additionally, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner directed three of the Original Series movies. Usually when a cast member directs, their character’s role is diminished, however Sisko is in every scene of “Far Beyond the Stars.” It’s an added challenge for Brooks, but it shows the producers’ commitment to make this episode about civil rights the best it can be.

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